Chasing the unattainable mirage on the asphalt road. Khaki sand piled up into huge soft mountain ranges. An occasional surprise of green vegetation at the bottom of a valley, fed by volcanic streams.
I was in a car caravan of Chilean business people headed to the north of Chile, the city of Arica. They picked me up on the side of route 16 just outside the sunny city of Iquique. Every person that has picked me up has been not only kind, but also seems excited to exchange information with a foreigner. I did my best with the small bit of Spanish that I know to entertain my good samaritans. Even within their cars you feel at home with their hospitality. English music is turned on the radio. Have I had anything to drink? To eat? Smiles and warmth exude.
Three hours later the business group dropped me off at the bustling national bus station. It was full of locals lounging on the sidewalks and several types of buses and taxis crowded into a tiny parking lot. I used my broken Spanish again, this time to ask for the bus to cross the Chilean border into Peru.
Shortly after, for only the price of a sandwich, I boarded a small bus filled with Chileans. The vehicle was warm and congested and a man boarded with snacks and local candies to try to sell to the passengers. Just thirty minutes later we reached the border where we disembarked for id checks. We were quickly herded back onto the bus for the last leg to the border city of Tacna. Tacna is known by the Chileans as the tax free shopping area with extremely affordable meals.
I quickly found a hostel to drop off my bag before wandering the streets in search of city center. It was there that I had the best ceviche of my life. Local Peruvians directed me to Santo Pecado Cevicheria which I will mention in case you are a seafood lover like me and find yourself in Tacna, Peru someday.
I am struck by the stark distinction between the wealthy and troubled parts of this city. There are market places where families sit in the dirt in hopes of selling whatever they have available. Hundreds of homeless dogs wander the street, showing off battle scars and scouring trash that is left on the streets. Yet just a few blocks to the center there are mansions, restaurants and shopping to satisfy any spender. Tacna is a city that thrives on tourists. Amidst it’s beautiful monuments and gourmet food you find the reality of the 3rd world. I am reminded once again to appreciate life and the seemingly insignificant treasures within it.